Technology are advancing so quickly the...

SCIENCE AND

January 22, 1994

SCIENCE AND technology are advancing so quickly the English language is huffing and puffing trying to catch up.

In a recent newsletter from T. Rowe Price Co. a particularly painful-to-the-ears word surfaced: "commputainment." This stylishly shortens the names of three profitable and increasingly related industries -- communications, computing and entertainment.

This oh-so-contrived word ought not to worm its way into everyday usage, but don't bet on it. The phrase "information superhighway" was unknown to mainstream America a few years ago. Now it's impossible to read a newspaper without finding it somewhere on the pages.

Moreover, there's a lack of precision in this new jargon. What exactly is that fabled information superhighway? A clear definition never accompanies stories on this nebulous "yellow brick road," as techno-futurist author William Gibson has termed it.

Sometimes, though, science rejects such linguistic perversions. Sky & Telescope magazine announced a contest last year to rename the "Big Bang" theory. Some astronomers argued the Big Bang was more of a Puny Pop, the result of a tiny atom which had achieved infinite density and therefore exploded. This event, however, was certainly Big with a capital B, for it kicked off the birth of the universe.

The contest generated 13,000 entries, but none were as satisfyingly simple as the Big Bang. So the judges, rejecting boringly invented words like "cosmogenesis," decided to stick with the Big Bang.

At long last, we can score one for simplicity.

* * *

FEW OF US even remember what the initials YMCA stand for (Young Men's Christian Association), and yet its 140th anniversary is now upon us. The YMCA of Greater Baltimore's historian, Jessica Elfenbein, has compiled some tidbits proving that the YMCA was truly founded for young, Christian men, and has since expanded its scope considerably, tackling many social and educational issues.

* In 1859, the first building devoted entirely to the YMCA was built here in Baltimore.

* In the 1880s and '90s, the White Cross League became a key element of the YMCA. Its purpose was the preservation of "male virtue" (i.e., virginity) until marriage.

* The University of Baltimore is really an amalgam of the Baltimore College of Commerce and the Baltimore YMCA College.

* The Y now provides "much needed and affordable housing" for single men at the Central, Druid Hill and railroad and seamen's branches.

One hundred forty years after its founding, the YMCA's mission to provide "physical exercise, recreation, and team sports as a way to win young men from the lure of the evil city" seems more needed than ever.

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